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Amy L. Sheck

UNC Board of Governors 2018 Teaching Award Winner Amy Sheck

NC School of Science and Mathematics

Teaching Philosophy

The goal of my teaching is to bring students to the point where they can go out into the world and engage in meaningful and informed scientific discourse with college professors, scientists, and their peers.  This involves introducing them to the specific subculture of ideas, practices, and habits of mind that underpin each course. For example, in Evolution the focus is on the dynamics of change, and in Research in Biology (RBio) the focus is on crafting meaningful questions and devising ways to answer them. A second goal is to make students feel that they are a part of the scientific community by providing them with hands-on experiences and empowering them with the tools and techniques to answer their own questions.  My third goal is to create memorable experiences that arise from a classroom environment where students participate, take initiative, have fun, and rise to a challenge.  And finally, my last goal is to create opportunities for students to extend their learning outside of the classroom so that students can find ways to express their interests, gain recognition, and develop character.

I believe that I am a guide for my students; that the art of teaching involves providing structure and pacing, choosing the best learning materials, and crafting meaningful and timely activities.  I believe that students learn best when their curiosity is piqued, when there is something that connects to their life, when they feel the need to know something, and when they have taken initiative.  I believe that students need multiple modes of engaging with the subject matter and benefit from seeing the same idea from more than one perspective.  And finally, I believe that students learn in the process of writing down what they know and especially from teaching what they know.

Summary Statement of Excellence in Teaching with Emphasis on Methods

Promoting Scientific Discourse – I use a variety of approaches to engage students in deep thinking and conversation. These include Socratic lecture, small group work, ‘think-pair-share’, guided reading followed by discussion, and role modeling.

Become a Part of the Scientific Community – I give students the core experimental skills, have them design their own experiments, and report results in the context of the scientific literature. For example in EvoTops, I introduce them to a photosynthetic bacterium that spontaneously mutates. Students work in groups to design and conduct their own experiments followed by analysis and presentation. In RBio, I set up mentoring relationships between seniors and juniors.

Memorable Experiences – These experiences include field trips, public speaking, teaching, and mini-activities that evoke emotions to facilitate memory. For example, students remember learning about blind and double-blind experiments; we use the Coke-Pepsi preference test and covertly introduce bias to manipulate students into choosing their non-preferred drink.

Creating Opportunities – I create opportunities for research, scholarships, leadership, and teaching.  Examples include the Microbe miniterm that brings students into contact with university professors and graduate students and has led to some award-winning research projects; I organize the NCSEF Regional Fair and support others that result in scholarships; I created new leadership opportunities with the TEDxNCSSM student organizing committee and Science Communicators, and I provide rich teaching opportunities for my RBio seniors who teach and mentor the RBio juniors.

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